Coming into the 2017 season, the White Sox infield looked fairly set. There weren’t really any questions as to who would be playing where, at least not until the service time shuffle games passed and Yoan Moncada getting called up became a realistic proposition. Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier would man the corners (until one of them — looking at you, Frazier — gets traded). Tim Anderson and Brett Lawrie would handle the middle, and Tyler Saladino would fill in wherever he was needed, whenever he was needed. It was a pretty good plan and looked to be one of the better Sox infields in quite some time. And then the White Sox released Lawrie.
It was a somewhat odd move from a purely talent-based view. Lawrie’s an established league-average hitter capable of playing second and third base decently and still had one year left before hitting free agency. That’s a useful piece on any team but even more so on one that’s had some of the shallowest benches in the American League for what feels like the past decade. But then you remember that Lawrie has only played more than 125 games once in his six year career and seemed to be blaming the Sox training staff for his recent foot-related ailments and, yeah, his time on the south side had probably run its natural course.
Which brings us to Saladino. Over his first full year in the majors, he put up a very impressive .282/.315/.409 line with eight home runs and 11 steals thrown in for good measure. He did that without a regular position or guaranteed playing time. He played every position on the field other than pitcher and catcher (and should really never pitch unless the Sox want to challenge his Tommy John-repaired elbow unnecessarily). He was more or less the perfect bench player: useful enough bat, good option to pinch run, and playable anywhere you needed him. And that may be his ceiling.
But the White Sox aren’t going anywhere this season. Or next season. So if there’s ever been a time to find out just what Saladino can bring to the table, it’s the first half of this year. If he thrives, fantastic! He’ll still get regular playing time spelling Anderson, Frazier, and Moncada once he forces the issue. And if he falters, well, that’s OKish too. He’ll go back to being a bench player and no real damage is done in the long run. What seemed like an unforced gamble at first blush may actually wind up paying off pretty well.
Lead Photo Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports